The Role of African Dust in Atlantic Climate During Heinrich Events

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2 Scopus citations


Increased ice discharge in the North Atlantic is thought to cause a weakening, or collapse, of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) during Heinrich events. Paleoclimate records indicate that these periods were marked by severe tropical aridity and dustiness. Although the driver of these events is still under debate, large freshwater input is necessary for climate models to simulate the magnitude, geographical extent, and abruptness of these events, indicating that they may be missing feedbacks. We hypothesize that the dust-climate feedback is one such feedback that has not been previously considered. Here we analyze the role of dust-climate feedbacks on the AMOC by parameterizing the dust radiative effects in an intermediate complexity model and consider uncertainties due to wind stress forcing and the magnitude of both atmospheric dust loading and freshwater hosing. We simulate both stable and unstable AMOC regimes by changing the prescribed wind stress forcing. In the unstable regime, additional dust loading during Heinrich events cools and freshens the North Atlantic and abruptly reduces the AMOC by 20% relative to a control simulation. In the stable regime, however, additional dust forcing alone does not alter the AMOC strength. Including both freshwater and dust forcing results in a cooling of the subtropical North Atlantic more comparable to proxy records than with freshwater forcing alone. We conclude that dust-climate feedbacks may provide amplification to Heinrich cooling by further weakening AMOC and increasing North Atlantic sea ice coverage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1291-1308
Number of pages18
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • AMOC
  • African dust
  • Heinrich events

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Palaeontology


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